Engineers Of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned The Tide In The Second World War, by Paul Kennedy
This book is not only a history of World War II of a sort, but it is also the sort of book that has a very clear agenda, most obvious at the end of the book. As someone who has read dozens of books (at least) about the subject of creativity and innovation, it is little surprise that a book that celebrates the innovativeness and creativity of problem solvers in the Allies–especially in the US and UK–who tackled various problems that had to be solved to achieve victory should also serve as a propaganda for an encouragement culture (the author’s words) that fosters tinkering and rewards improvement and those who suggest changes and improvements in existing processes and technologies. The extent to which the reader is on-board with the author’s thinking about this subject will indicate the extent to which the author is going to be interested in the book as a whole, which shows a large degree of concern with the middle-managers and engineers and related people whose insight and whose improvements were crucial in getting buggy systems to work and in solving problems that needed to be solved for the Allied war effort in World War II to prevail.
This book is almost 400 pages and consists of five very large chapters along with various supplementary material. The book begins with maps and tables and an introduction that sets the stage for the author’s view of five notable problems during World War II for the allies to be successful, as we know of course that they were. After that the author discusses how to get convoys safely across the Atlantic, a major logistical challenge that required cooperation between different elements that also involved the defeat of improving German U-boats led by aggressive commanders who nonetheless found themselves the hunted rather than the hunter as a result of various improvements, including carrier escort (1). After that comes a discussion of the challenge of winning command of the air (2), which included a discussion of radar for air defense in England as well as the problem of long-distance fueling and even the morality of strategic bombing. After this comes a discussion on how to stop a blitzkrieg, which includes by necessity a discussion of how the blitzkrieg came to be in the first place, and what elements it held, which had to be stopped if it was to be stopped (3). After this the author discusses the age-old problem of amphibious warfare in how one seizes an enemy-held shore, a task at which the Allies became very proficient as a result of repeated practice in both the Western front as well as the Pacific War (4). Finally, the author discusses the problem of defeating the tyranny of distance in the Pacific War (5), after which there is a conclusion about problem solving in history, or the history of innovation, acknowledgments, notes, a bibliography, credits, and an index.
In discussing these matters, the author is not only interested in shining a light on aspects of military history that tend to be obscured by tendency of people either to focus on those in command or the experience of the common soldier and not the people in the middle involved in logistics, intelligence, and related areas, but also interested in demonstrating that the things which are successful in military efforts are simultaneously useful for business and other institutions. This idea is easy enough to dispute, but all the same it provides the motivation for the author to write and will likely provide a motivation for many people to read this book. This is a book that is both for fans of World War II history but also those who have an interest in cross-fertilization of the insights that can be learned from history in fields like engineering and management, where a great many of the readers of this book are likely to have at least more than a passing degree of interest. And it is the relevance of the book that puts this a cut above the rest when it comes to talking about technology, even if the author has a very limited and not always very accessible style when it comes to writing about problem solving.